Potentially devastating impacts on the landscape and the character of Yorkshire’s national parks have been avoided as a result of a ministerial change of heart, authority chiefs claim.
New planning rules to allow unused agricultural buildings to be converted as homes will not apply to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, after Planning Minister Nick Boles backtracked on his original proposals.
Bosses at the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national parks expressed their relief at the decision and pledged to find more sensitive ways to solve the acute shortage of much-needed affordable housing within their borders.
In a written statement to MPs, Mr Boles said that outside of those protected areas, redundant or unused agricultural buildings of up to 450 square metres in size could be turned into up to three homes, and outside of key shopping areas, shops or professional service properties could also now be turned into homes.
He said that he did not want the policy’s exclusions in protected areas to block new housing developments however.
“National parks and other protected areas are living communities whose young people and families need access to housing if their communities are to grow and prosper,” he said.
Jim Bailey, chairman of National Parks England and the North York Moors National Park Authority, said he was delighted by the decision: “Our National Parks represent some of our most stunning countryside. The fact that they are also living working landscapes has never been in doubt. What we need now is a serious discussion about how we can deliver well designed affordable housing for local needs. That requires investment, partnerships, and yes good planning too.”
Defending the existing planning process, Mr Bailey added: “Planning can help us deliver economic growth at the same time as maintaining the high-quality landscapes valued by all. Ensuring national park authorities can continue to exercise sensitivity and careful judgement is critical to this and we welcome that the Government has listened to our concerns.”
Peter Charlesworth, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said an estimated 6,000 traditional barns could have been lost to housing in the Dales alone, causing “irreversible harm” to the countryside.
“We are delighted that the Government has listened to the concerns of England’s national parks and others and has modified its proposals accordingly, allowing national parks to retain local planning control,” Mr Charlesworth said.
“We’re now going to be getting on with implementing the spirit of the National Planning Policy Framework – to promote sustainable development in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
“This will, no doubt, include the conversion of some barns to houses but only where they’re in suitable locations. We know local people support that approach and our new Local Plan – which maps out the Authority’s policies for planning issues from 2015 to 2030 – contains proposals to bring more derelict farm buildings back into use.
“A draft of the Local Plan is due to go out to consultation in May and, if the policies regarding barns are approved, we will then be able to continue with our commitment to conserve the special qualities of the barns and walls landscape, making better use of one of the National Park’s best assets.”
The Minister’s decision was not universally welcomed, with the Country Land and Business Association saying that national parks would miss out on “many social and economic benefits” as a result of the late concessions.